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Stepanek Steps Up To The Winner Circle In Brisbane

The finals at the Brisbane International in Australia featured third seed, Spaniard Fernando Verdasco and eight seed, Czech Radek Stepanek. Using his customary antics and tactics to unnerve his opponent, Stepanek triumphed over Verdasco 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

From the first game, Stepanek placed Verdasco on notice that volleying would be the order of the day. The Czech brought the Spaniard into net with a dropshot which the latter deftly handled for a backhand volley winner and went on to hold serve. Serving at 0-1, Radek unleashed another dropshot which Fernando again reached for a forehand volley winner. With two consecutive unforced errors from Stepanek, Verdasco arrived at triple break point. With a forehand down the line winner, Verdasco took a 2-0 lead. After finally holding serve at 1-3, Stepanek pressured two unforced errors from Verdasco’s weaker side, the backhand, for love-30. However, it is the closest the Czech got to overcoming the break deficit. The Spaniard pulled out the game and capped off the set with a forehand volley for winner.

A major problem for Stepanek the previous set was a low first serve percentage which impeded his venturing to the forecourt. The Czech quickly rectified that dilemma. Serving to open the second set, Stepanek connected on an overhead smash and two volleys to lead 1-0. Then, by pressuring Verdasco’s backhand, Stepanek got his first break point. Despite being unsuccessful, for Radek, this was a sign of better things on the horizon. When Stepanek got another break chance, he took the opportunity to rouse up the crowd. When later Verdasco misfired on a backhand crosscourt backhand, Stepanek had a 3-1 lead. Now fully energized and with a potent first serve and lethal volleys, Stepanek went on to carry the second set.

Stepanek broke in the initial game of the third set when Verdasco failed to convert on a forehand pass then on the next point overshot a lob. In the second game, Verdasco had three opportunities to even out the set, but with an overhead smash and forehand down the line winner, Stepanek consolidated for 2-0. When an attempted slice backhand found the bottom of the net and a backhand down the line misconnected, Verdasco stared at double break point. As the Spaniard’s favorite shot, the forehand crosscourt, kissed his side of the net, the Czech took a 4-1 lead. However, perhaps Stepanek began rejoicing a little too soon. On the next game, Radek made a rare volley error to give Fernando a break point. The Spaniard narrowed the deficit to one break when he hit a clean return for a winner. After comfortably holding serve, Verdasco gained a break point when his low return caused Stepanek to hit up. But with his customary one-two punch, serve and volley, Stepanek reestablished order for 5-3. The Czech went on to seal the match with a forehand volley winner.

This tournament is one of the first stop for the men as they march toward Melbourne and the Australian Open. Top seed Novak Djokovic, was ousted in the first round by Latvian Ernests Gulbis. The second seed and 2008 Australian Open finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, had his ticket to the semifinals cancelled by compatriot Richard Gasquet.

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